Small Talk

A gentleman sitting in one of the boxes in company with the late Lord North, not knowing his lordship, entered into conversation with him, and, seeing two ladies come into an opposite box, turned to him, and addressed him with, ‘Pray, sir, can you inform me who is that ugly woman that is just come in?’ ‘O,’ replied his lordship, with great good humor, ‘that is my wife.’ ‘Sir, I ask you ten thousand pardons; I do not mean her, I mean that shocking monster who is along with her.’ ‘That,’ replied his lordship, ‘is my daughter.’

— M. Lafayette Byrn, The Repository of Wit and Humor, 1853

Strike Three

After cataloging her disappointment with Europe, Asia, and Australia, xenophobic travel writer Favell Lee Mortimer finished her world survey with Far Off, Part II: Africa and America Described (1854). What did she discover about the intriguing people and exotic customs of these remote continents?

  • “It is a rare thing in Egypt to speak the truth.”
  • “Those who wish to visit Nubia ought to go there in a boat, for there is no other pleasant way.”
  • “Perhaps there is no Christian country in the world as ignorant as Abyssinia.”
  • “Cruelty is the chief vice of the Caffre.”
  • “Newfoundland is a dreary abode.”
  • “Though Mexico is so beautiful at a distance, yet the streets are narrow and loathsome, and the poor people, walking in them, look like bundles of old rags.”

“Washington is one of the most desolate cities in the world: not because she is in ruins, but for the opposite reason — because she is unfinished. There are places marked out where houses ought to be, but where no houses seem ever likely to be.”

Good News!

[A]dvertising will in the future world become gradually more and more intelligent in tone. It will seek to influence demand by argument instead of clamour, a tendency already more apparent every year. Cheap attention-calling tricks and clap-trap will be wholly replaced, as they are already being greatly replaced, by serious exposition; and advertisements, instead of being mere repetitions of stale catch-words, will be made interesting and informative, so that they will be welcomed instead of being shunned; and it will be just as suicidal for a manufacturer to publish silly or fallacious claims to notoriety as for a shopkeeper of the present day to seek custom by telling lies to his customers.

— T. Baron Russell, A Hundred Years Hence, 1906

Dark Horse

Fifty-one voters of Milton, Wash. (Tacoma suburb) last week marked their ballots for one Boston Curtis, Republican candidate for precinct committeeman. Boston Curtis was elected. Milton’s Mayor Kenneth Simmons, a Democrat, chortled hugely. He, who had sponsored Candidate Curtis and filed his papers, had proved his point that voters ‘have no idea whom they support.’ Boston Curtis is a large brown mule.

Time, Sept. 26, 1938

“Business Signs in London”

A stranger is surprised in London by some of the signs, which have been handed down for generations, which are used to distinguish particular places of business. Many of them are perfectly unmeaning, but are corruptions of the original signs. A public house was called ‘The Bag of Nails,’ which was derived from the old name, ‘The Bacchanals.’ ‘The Bull and Goat’ was corrupted from ‘The Bologne Gate,’ as the place was called in compliment to Henry VIII, who took the place in 1642. There is another public house called ‘The Goat and Compasses.’ It was established in the old Puritan times. In the days of Cromwell, it was ‘God encompasses us;’ but in Queen Victoria’s time it is ‘The Goat and Compasses.’ There is one public house called ‘The Three Loggerheads.’ The sign has a picture of two men, and the inscription underneath:

‘We three
Loggerheads be.’

And the passer by wonders, as he reads it, where on earth the third loggerhead can be.

Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, June 1861


A young gentleman on the point of being married, is desirous of meeting a man of experience who will dissuade him from such a step.

— Advertisement, London Times, quoted in William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892

The Malcontents Abroad

In 1852, two years after condemning all of Europe, cranky Victorian travel writer Favell Lee Mortimer turned to the east for Far Off: Asia and Australia Described. What did she learn of the colorful people, rich history, and sophisticated cultures of these exotic lands?

  • “The reason why the Armenians live in holes in the ground is because they hope the Kurds may not find out where they are.”
  • “It is impossible to trust a Persian.”
  • “The Buddhists are full of tricks by which to get presents out of people.”
  • “The Chinese are very selfish and unfeeling.”
  • “The Arabs are so unforgiving and revengeful that they will seek to kill a man year after year.”
  • “In disposition the Siamese are deceitful and cowardly.”
  • “It must be very terrible to live in the midst of such murderers as the people of Bokhara seem to be.”

And: “All the religions of China are bad, but of the three, the religion of Confucius is the least foolish.”

Lincoln Enslaved

On April 2, scores of students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute swooped down on banks and stores in Troy, N.Y., demanded that bills from $5 to $100 be changed for pennies. By April 4, tellers and storekeepers became suspicious, but it was too late. The students had cornered the penny market, having collected 250,000 coppers. Sales had to be made in round sums or not at all. Next day, same students re-invaded Troy, gave merchants 75¢ and 25 pennies for every $1 purchase, announced they were ‘TaxCENTinels.’ Their aim is to make U.S. citizens tax-conscious by showing that hidden taxes amount to 25% of merchandise prices.

Life, April 18, 1938